LAS VEGAS – Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez was preparing to fight another nondescript opponent on an undercard at a minor-league baseball stadium at this time last year.
Impressive back-to-back victories over former WBC super flyweight champions Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai have since thrust the 22-year-old San Antonio native into the brightest of spotlights, the top spot on the Canelo Alvarez-Gennadiy Golovkin undercard Saturday night. Rodriguez (16-0, 11 KOs) will make the second defense of the WBC 115-pound crown he won when he out-pointed Cuadras on short notice seven months ago against another Mexican veteran, Israel Gonzalez, in the Alvarez-Golovkin co-feature at T-Mobile Arena.
If Rodriguez decisively defeats the experienced Gonzalez (28-4-1, 11 KOs), the humble emerging star is confident that he’ll have done enough to earn various “Fighter of the Year” awards for 2022. Rodriguez confirmed Wednesday that a victory Saturday night also would secure his spot on the Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez undercard December 3 at a site to be determined, but the strong southpaw doesn’t think he’ll need a fourth win against an undetermined opponent to secure the honor he feels he deserves.
“I’ve never really, you know, had that as a goal, but once I got the mid-year award, that’s when my mindset changed,” Rodriguez told a small group of reporters Wednesday at MGM Grand. “It made me more motivated in the gym to come out and perform. And, you know, come September 17th, I’m really gonna solidify that I am ‘Fighter of the Year.’ And even after this fight, I’m not gonna need [a fight in] December.
“Of course, I’m gonna fight in December. But, you know, come September 17th, that’s all that’s gonna be needed to go out there and show everyone that I’m ‘Fighter of the Year.’ With the performance I’m gonna put on Saturday night, people, they’re gonna have no question.”
Rodriguez dropped Cuadras (39-5-1, 27 KOs) in the third round and beat him convincingly on two scorecards (117-110, 117-110, 115-112) to win the then-vacant WBC super flyweight title February 5 at Footprint Center in Phoenix. He surprisingly handled Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai (50-6-1, 43 KOs) with relative ease on his way to a seventh-round knockdown and an eighth-round stoppage June 25 at Tech Port Arena in San Antonio.
Israel Gonzalez has lost 12-round unanimous decisions to Roman Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KOs), a former four-division champ from Nicaragua, and England’s Kal Yafai (26-1, 15 KOs), an ex-WBA super flyweight champ, since November 2019. Former IBF junior bantamweight champ Jerwin Ancajas (33-2-2, 22 KOs) previously stopped Israel Gonzalez in the 10th round of their February 2018 bout.
Eddie Hearn – whose company, Matchroom Boxing, promotes Rodriguez – first mentioned him as a “Fighter of the Year” frontrunner Wednesday.
“Honestly, this is the fastest rise, and the activity’s key,” Hearn said. “You know, February against Cuadras. Rungvisai [in June]. Now again in September. All being well on Saturday, he’ll go again in December, and he’ll be ‘Fighter of the Year,’ unquestionably.”
If Dmitry Bivol beats undefeated former WBO super middleweight champ Gilberto Ramirez on November 5 in Abu Dhabi, Russia’s Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs) clearly would be able to make his own strong argument for winning “Fighter of the Year.” In his first fight of 2022, Bivol upset Alvarez, then boxing’s consensus pound-for-pound king, by 12-round unanimous decision to retain his WBA light heavyweight championship May 7 at T-Mobile Arena.
Rodriguez-Gonzalez will be the last undercard bout before Mexico’s Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs) and Kazakhstan’s Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) fight for Alvarez’s IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO super middleweight titles in the 12-round main event of a DAZN Pay-Per-View show ($64.99 for subscribers; $84.99 for non-subscribers). Caesars Sportsbook lists Rodriguez as a 12-1 favorite versus Gonzalez.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.